Aaron Renn: Struggling Cities


Too often, states try to help these cities through massive spending or tax giveaways. The disgraceful Foxconn and Amazon HQ2 site selection processes are emblematic of what goes on every day across America. Massachusetts included Pittsfield in its list of proposed Amazon HQ2 sites, for example, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, also put in a bid. But decades of subsidies haven’t worked and won’t work.

Instead, deeply challenged smaller post-industrial cities should do the basics: Local governments must address their often huge unfunded liabilities and get to structurally balanced budgets. They should reform their governance where necessary, especially by eliminating corruption. And, they need to start rebuilding core public services, especially public safety but also parks, etc. Make no mistake, this will require help from federal and state governments, and may involve painful steps like bankruptcy and prosecutions.

Leidy Klotz: Little-Known Behavioral Scientist Who Transformed Cities

The Behavioral Scientist:

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

“Why are you architects not interested in people?” Ingrid Gehl asked her new husband, Jan. “What do you think about the fact that your architecture professors take their photos at four o’clock in the morning … without the distraction of people in the photos?”

In the early 1960s, and in many cases still today, these were forbidden questions, particularly among those we think of as designers—architects, city planners, and engineers. Then and now, designers consider human needs for health, survival, safety, and comfort through building codes and best practices. Psychological needs are only an afterthought—at best.

Ingrid, however, was no conventional designer—she was a psychologist. And by entertaining such questions, Ingrid and her husband took the first steps on a journey to create city spaces for the full range of human needs. The Danish couple’s ideas have since made life better in cities like New York, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and London. Of course, many parts of many cities still seem optimized for buildings and cars. But the story of Ingrid and Jan is a model for what partnerships between behavioral scientists and designers can look like today.

In the 1960s and 1970s, William Whyte was studying human behavior in New York City and applying similar thinking in the United States.

Adam Rogers: Apple's New Headquarters is Old Culture


You can’t understand a building without looking at what’s around it—its site, as the architects say. From that angle, Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. People rightly credit Apple for defining the look and feel of the future; its computers and phones seem like science fiction. But by building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino—transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood.

Apple can't be good at everything. Steve Job grew up in a suburb and his formative experiences likely influenced his ideals of corporate headquarters.

Bill Lindeke: Five Reasons to Like St. Paul's Ford Site Plan


There are about 150 acres of somewhat polluted land on a prime spot in the heart of the Twin Cities metro, right next to a bunch of existing or planned high-capacity transit corridors. And right now demand for smaller, affordable, mixed-use housing is huge — and projected to grow immensely as demographic changes continue. It’s a dream come true for urban planners, and it’s a tabula rasa chance for Saint Paul to build a neighborhood designed around the future.

The land is currently being cleaned up by the Ford company. So far, there have been years of work putting together ideas for the site. the hope is that, once these broad plans are adopted, a Ford will sell the site to a willing developer who will flesh out these guidelines into a detailed proposal.

Here are my five favorite things about the plans so far...

Linda Poon: Putting Citizens at the Center of Urban Design


Creating a lively public space isn’t as easy as building it and waiting for the crowds to come. There’s a lot that city planners have to consider: How much space is available? What’s the target demographic? How can a public space be made energy efficient?

A group of researchers at MIT thinks that there’s an important piece of the puzzle that’s too often overlooked: the human experience. Studying how people interact with cars, buildings, and sidewalks within an urban space says a lot about its quality, says Elizabeth Christoforetti, an urban and architectural designer at MIT Media Lab.

With a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund, she and her team are working on a project called Placelet, which will track how pedestrians move through a particular space. They’re developing a network of sensors that will track the scale and speed of pedestrians, as well as vehicles, over long periods of time. The sensors, which they are currently testing in downtown Boston, will also track the “sensory experience” by recording the noise level and air quality of that space.

In the tradition of observations of William Whyte.

A City is an Ecosystem

Courtney Humphries, reporting for the Boston Globe:

Cities may strike us as the opposite of “the environment”: As we pave streets and erect buildings, nature comes to feel like the thing you find somewhere else. But scientists working in the growing field of urban ecology argue that we’re missing something. A city’s soil collects pollutants, but it also supports a vast system of microscopic life. Water courses beneath roads and buildings, often in long-buried streams and constructed pipes. And city ecosystems aren’t static; they change over time as populations grow, infrastructure ages, and different political structures and social values shape them.

Seen this way, the city is a distinct form of “environment,” and an important one. Truly understanding how it works—and how it affects the millions of people who may live and work there—will mean studying the whole city as a living system, both its organisms and its pipes, roads, and landfills. As cities grow, maintaining clean air and water in a place like Boston may depend on how well urban areas support trees, plants, and microbes.

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view. Truly wonderful the ecology of a city is.”

Urban Walkability

Nyla Hughes, writing for the Great Lakes Echo:

Despite recent economic challenges, Detroit’s future as a walkable city is promising, according to a recent study by George Washington University.

Significant improvement is expected due to the investment in 40 office, retail, and residential structures by Quicken Loans, according to the study by Chris Leinberger and Patrick Lynch at the university’s school of business. Also, Detroit’s suburbs of Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Birmingham are making strides in walkable urbanism.
Michigan Municipal League; Traverse City, Michigan: 

Michigan Municipal League; Traverse City, Michigan: 

Quantify must your amenity be before cherish it you can.